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April 2014

Who has the lead in 3D IC manufacturing technology?

Samsung said it will license its latest 3-dimensional chip manufacturing technology, called FinFET,  to U.S. firm GlobalFoundries* to help expand its foundry business as it competes with bigger rival TSMC for mobile processing chips to match rising demand from smartphone makers.
Samsung will also begin mass production of foundry chips using 14-nanometer FinFET technology by year-end. TSMC has just started manufacturing 20-nanometer chips last quarter, and is developing the technology for making 16-nanometer FinFET chips.

*GlobalFoundries is the foundry business formed by the former manufacturing arms of AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) and Charter Semiconductor. Although registered as a New York-based company, it is actually owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

What effect upon our industry will the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling that a section of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) conflict minerals reporting rule violates the First Amendment? What will everyone do while a lower court determines whether the wording in the SEC’s rule, or the Dodd-Frank reform law underpinning it, is to blame for the free speech violations? Wonder no more! The actions of large OEMs have already set the tone with their signed statements to “continue to work together to eliminate the link between violence and human rights abuses and the mineral trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries regardless of the lawsuit.”  No matter how one views it and no matter the outcome, the pressure will be on to be free of conflict metals. Watch for the marketing competition. "Buy our products because WE are the most conflict metal free!"

Now that the euphoria of a successful IPC APEX EXPO has past, it is time to look ahead again. The revelation that Europe now produces only 4 1/2% and the U.S. only *5% of the world's PWBs coupled with an Emergency Preparedness meeting in Massachusetts shocked us back into thinking about the future and opportunities for the electronic packaging supply chain. Just how far will consolidation take us? What will become of the smaller innovator (from whence most of our major breakthroughs seem to come)? Will the OEMs that attended the IPC event step up to the plate to support its suppliers in helping them develop materials and processes to meet their new needs? Will the IPC's new focus on accelerating the development and release of standards in itself be a fast track item? Will the IPC's new Washington D.C. office help, or will it be submersed in cacophony of "larger" more politically correct actions to change America? NEPCON China 2014 in Shanghai April 23-25 will be our first opportunity to view possibilities with a different frame of reference.

*Much of America's remaining 5% is in boards for the military, as well as for medical, quick turn and short runs. At the meeting it was stated that Shengyi is now the world's largest Cu-clad laminate maker. That raised the question about the supply chain for military and aerospace boards. These foreign made laminates are supposedly banned from these boards just as ICs are, since they too are a component of the finished product. Is this being monitored? If so, how? Laminate makers today just have to meet the IPC's 4101 C specification as there are no longer applicable MIL Specs (e.g., the "old" MIL-P-13949). I wonder, are any U.S. military multilayer PWB makers using Shengyi, Ventec, or other Chinese materials just to gain a few cents per square foot cost edge? Am I wrong? Send me your comments!

By-passing 2.5D

Did Nvidia's announcement that it would use 3D packaging with silicon-through-vias on some forthcoming Pascal graphics processors to make more memory available with minimal delays signal the start of a general acceptance of stacked memory chips?

Samsung, Intel, and TSMC will spend more than 50% of the entire IC industry's billion CapEx of $62.2 billion in 2014. The questions are, "How much will they spend to help their supply chains develop the new packaging and materials needed for their now products?* How will these be selected? What other support will they provide? Will they leave this challenge up to their competition to provide the solutions -if they can afford to find them?" It seems like the obstacles to overcome are indeed steep for those wishing to enter tomorrow's electronic packaging industry.

*Note that China spends about $300 billion on R&D versus $450 billion in the U.S. and is increasing its spend by 20% per year. At this rate it will surpass the U.S. in research and development spending by 2022.

March 2014

IPC APEX EXPO was the best in many years. Attendance was good. Record conference attendance was coupled with steady traffic on the show floor. Even Thursday morning saw potential buyers visiting exhibitors in their booths. Capital equipment buyers were twice as optimistic as in the prior year - about 65% stated that they planned to buy equipment this year versus about 30% last year. Exhibitors stated that they were making sales and getting commitments for future trials  in their booths during the show - event though there was little in the way of new systems to be seen in the hall. One independent equipment sales rep stated that he had more customer meetings at this show than at the five previous events combined.

New product introductions and improvements abounded. EarthOne Circuit Technologies Corporation dba eSurface® Technologies  created quite a stir with its sponsorship of the Tuesday luncheon to announce its new additive printed circuit board process.

It was interesting to learn of the rapid growth of HzO and its vacuum applied conformal (and other protective) coatings.  Michael Mummert told us of the progress his company has made this past year. The company grown from a handful of employees to about 50, beefed up its management staff, moved into larger quarters in Utah this past year, and established a branch in Zuhai, China to service its customers there. He stated that millions of boards have now been processed through their system which is said to meet all current IPC requirements and have a longer protective life than those materials currently applied by plasma deposition. The process is marketed in a variety of ways including leased equipment, license, OEM licenses, and coating services for a fee.

Six OEMs responded to the IPC's effort to get them more engaged at the management level. The Ambassador Council held its first meeting to explore how it could provide help to further the knowledge and success of IPC members. The executive management meetings' programs were excellent but still failed to bring in more than a handful of bare board fabricators. Counterfeit components was one of the hot topics throughout the event.

On the other hand, a number of historic names (Christopher, Multiline) were missing from the show - victims of the business conditions and America's continual decline in the bare board market as well as direct incursions by foreign capital equipment producers. Some exhibitors were still introducing their "new" systems and processes after three or more years of failing to gain traction. However, it warmed my heart to see the resurrected Dynachem name and logo back in America in Osvaldo Novello's booth, Automatic Lamination Technologies S.R.L.

The IPC event has appeared to have morphed into an analog of the old NEPCON West in terms of massive entertainment activities. The major corporate exhibitors not only took large booths but also used to arrange major hospitality events, receptions, and cruises which captured many of the show attendees. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at NEPCON. This put the smaller exhibitors at a distinct disadvantage.

When the IPC established its first trade show it decided to level the playing field a bit for the smaller exhibiting members. It banned major hospitality events during the show that would take attendees away from the event. Some companies that violated this rule were even penalized by having their chance to select the following year's booth moved to the last position. The IPC arranged for cruises (in San Diego). It produced major galas with music, food, entertainment, and other activities. It solicited sponsors - who received credit for their participation. The price for admission to the event was reasonable. Many companies bought tickets for their customers. It was a great night for all.

But, things have reverted. Companies with deep pockets have already started to reserve ballrooms, night clubs, and to plan other major events for IPC APEX EXPO 2015. I do not think that this is a good trend.

Bob Black of Juki Automation said that sales closed during the first two days of the show actually "more than paid" for the show. He said that although January was a bit slow, February sales were strong and he expected March to also be a good month.

Nihon Superior's Tetsuro Nishimura said that his booth was busy throughout the show and that he was glad that he came. He'll be back next year to exhibit with the IPC for the 15th time. President Nishimura also stated that Nihon Superior strengthened it global presence by granting longtime partner Balver Zinn the right to sublicense the company's SN100C formulation in Europe. He also announced that he has welcomed two new sub-licensees, Felder and Stannol.

Chris Fussner of Yamaha (Transtech) stated that he expected a good year in 2014 as his American distributor organization achieved a positive cash flow in second year (2013).

Don Walsh stated that Ueymura had a record year and a strong start in 2014.

OMG's Mike Carano (admitted to the IPC's Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame, the IPC's highest honor, during the awards luncheon) stated that his company has now captured a 30% share of the North American market for their products.

Dr. Bill Elder introduced Maskless Lithography's (MLI's) direct imaging system for liquid photoimageable solder masks (LPISMs). Capable of exposing 25 panels (both sides) per hour with 2.0 mil dams utilizing Taiyo's or Electra Polymers' new LPISMs developed specifically for direct imaging, the MLI 5000 series was the only system in the show providing live demonstrations of this fabrication process step.

Crunch time

Early reports from the CPCA show state that it is a "disaster". One of the major exhibitors said that no-one came to their booth on Day 1, and only a dozen or so - but no buyers - on the second day. Another stated that Day 1 was awful and that Day 2 was a bit better, it was just terrible in terms of attendance. Semicon China held in Shanghai at the same time was reported to also have experienced the same malaise - a dearth of customers, prospects or visitors of any type.

Can the international uncertainty be the cause? Can the economic woes and diplomatic strife in the world be the reason? Could the international cultural differences and distrust as shown through the investigations of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 be at fault? Are the rapid changes in the electronics industry coupled with continued closures and consolidations be the reason? Could it be that potential buyers are tired of sending armies of their troops to exhibits  to see much of "the same old stuff"?

Do these events need to change for today's and tomorrow's technology, markets and products? Is the gravitation of business to fewer larger enterprises at fault? If so, how? We believe that ALL of these - and more - are at fault. At the same time, we note that technical conferences, which do not need to draw volumes of visitors to consider them successful, generally continue to attract members of their particular buying public.

Dateline March 16

No one can possibly attend all the pertinent events scheduled for the next 6 weeks. Even if time and manpower permitted it, your budget may not!However, you CAN plan to get the most out of each. Determine what areas are of vital interest for you today - and tomorrow. Decide which you and your staff can attend. Divide the search and report assignments and responsibilities. Ask your industry contacts who will attend the shows that you will miss, and arrange to swap targeted information as well as general topics of interest. Alternatively, engage a consultant to seek out the desired information at the events of attraction...either directly in your behalf or while masking your company's identity and its interests.

January's IC sales hit a new high for that month of $26.3 billion according o the Semiconductor Industry Association. The Americas showed the biggest year-over-year increase with a gain of 17%, while Japan declined 4.7%. One has to wonder if this presages a good 2014 for the interconnect industry, or, is the "historic" 3 to 6 month lag in the rise and fall of the board fabrication industry no longer valid. One must also speculate on whether the effect of new packaging and the use of flexible circuits have made a major incursion into and modified the former historic relationship.

Difficult traveling schedules and decisions

The CPCA and IPC Apex Expo shows are in consecutive weeks. The first is in Shanghai and the second in Las Vegas. Productronica China, Semicon China, Electronica China,  and Laser World of Photonics China, are held concurrently, though not all at the same site, with the CPCA show in Shanghai.

Many American suppliers depend upon their customers in China to remain in business. I visited one equipment maker this past week that told me that his company could no longer survive just on orders from the USA and Europe. Attending both events is difficult and cost prohibitive for some suppliers. Several are opting to attend just the CPCA show. A few will attend both.

In discussions with board fabricators in China we often hear that the Chinese company will not visit the IPC show as anything of worth will now be brought to them in China (HKPCA or the CPCA show). I also noted that the NEPCON show is held BOTH in Shanghai and in Shenzhen, just as the two major Chinese PWB shows are. These same Chinese companies feel that it is still worthwhile to visit the JPCA show (just a 2 to 3 hour flight from Hong Kong or Shanghai). A few majors still feel that the Productronica event held every other year has value.

The Chinese government is clamping down on the value of the yuan to stimulate exports again amid strong efforts to increase domestic markets (electronics, appliances, automotive, communications) with "affordable" products*. There is a shift for some manufacturers to leave China. Some are "re-shoring". But, make no mistake about it, the new manufacturing sites will have a strong economic reason for being selected. (Note that the assembly business in Mexico is reported to be "booming" again).

The aforementioned shows the need for the continued schedule and activity cooperation between the various major companies and trade associations to protect the future of its members in whatever location to which our industry migrates.

*Note that China is once again forecasting a 7.5% growth (same as last year's projection) in its GDP for 2014.

New form factors and designs for hand held devices are coming

Why would heat blocking and curved sapphire glass screens start to appear on next generation smart phones? Simple. Smart phones with larger screens are being introduced. Many young people in China and other emerging markets have just one device rather than have a smart phone AND a tablet or notebook computer. Screens larger than 5.5 inches may also eliminate bezels. The curve and heat absorbing properties would make it easier to continue to use some of these as a "one-hand" device.

Are you up to date on 2.5D and 3DIC packaging and integration? Do you know how these rapidly advancing technologies affect YOUR business? If not, you ought to check out the professional development course offered at the IPC APEX Expo next month as well the offerings on this topic and the October IPC tech Summit in Raleigh, NC - unless you want to risk decreasing your opportunities for growth or even survival during the next 3 to 5 years.

Across the Atlantic River

In a renewed spirit of cooperation, the IPC and EIPC are working together to bring educational workshops to Europe in 2014. They announced that during April, Dr. Martin Anselm, Universal Instruments Corporation, will present two half-day workshops in the UK and Germany on failure analysis and reliability testing. One has to wonder if it is time, with a joint production value of PWBs of less than 15% of the world in North America and Europe, that the two organizations found a way to formally link up.

It's time to complete planning for tasks to accomplish at the upcoming IPC APEX EXPO in Las Vegas later this month. My "to do" list includes the following (not in order of priority).

   1. Preview the exhibition to scope out the most efficient way to spend time on the show floor.
   2. Attend the Tuesday and Wednesday award and meeting luncheons
   3. Meet with principals and customers of the companies on whose Boards of Directors I serve
   4. Seek out new products of interest with which our company and its clients can form a JV or manufacturing and/or marketing partnership, license, or otherwise represent, e.g. new DFM tools
   5. Sit in on technical papers of interest
   6. Meet with other Hall of Fame members to see how our experiences may be able to help benefit the IPC and its members
   7. Meet with key contacts to get "their reading" of the current market and near term and long term outlooks
   8. Up-date information and status of interesting products introduced in the past few years as well as determine which have “vanished"
   9. Check status of the recently proposed IPC PAC

......and as Denny Fritz said, "Meet old friends and see how they are doing."

What do YOU think that we should be checking out at the show? What are YOUR plans for the event?